Australia may open borders to Asia as it records third day without local COVID-19 case

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia is considering opening its borders to Asian countries, including parts of China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as Canberra seeks to revive an economy ravaged by COVID-19.

People walk through a congested intersection in the city centre of Sydney, Australia, November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Australia in March shut its borders to all non-citizens and permanent residents, though in October Canberra allowed New Zealand residents to enter. Internal travel is limited, although those restrictions are scheduled to be removed by the end of the year.

Morrison ruled out entry from the United States or Europe, but said Australia may allow people from low-risk countries such as Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and even provinces in China.

“We ... are looking at what alternative arrangements could be hard to channel visitors through appropriate quarantine arrangements for low-risk countries,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

China was one of the first countries from which Australia restricted entry.

The consideration of easing travel curbs comes as Morrison said Australia has gone three days without any locally acquired cases of COVID-19.

All cases have been detected in quarantined locals who have recently returned from overseas.

Reviving tourism would be a much-needed boost to Australia’s economy, which shrank 7% in the three months that ended in June, the most since records began in 1959.

Tourism in 2019 accounted for 3.1% of the country’s gross domestic product, contributing almost A$61 billion ($44.4 billion) to the economy, government data shows.

Although many Australians are taking holidays locally, many tourism operators are struggling and have been forced to shed staff.

Unemployment ticked up to 6.9% in September, official data showed.

Morrison said Australia would extend higher unemployment benefits until the end of March, though at a reduced rate.

Currently those unemployed receive A$815 every two weeks, but this will fall to A$715 at the end of December.

Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Gerry Doyle